When I was at Lancaster Bible College, I met a girl who was a freshman when I was a senior. She was a nice girl and often enjoyed hanging out with the group of people I hung out with because we were the “older” group. On the outside, she seemed to have all of her stuff together. She was a very pretty – with long, black hair and eyes that were dark green. She dressed well and had a knockout smile. She was also a decent student, excelling in her class work and extra activities that the college provided for students to participate. I never would have thought that she cut herself though. It wasn’t until I noticed how she always wore long sleeved shirts even in the summertime. The sleeves always covered most of her hands and I thought perhaps that she was always cold or something because she wore long sleeved shirts. I will never forget when I first saw her wrists. They were shredded but self-inflected wounds. On her left hand, there was a band-aid where a fresh cut had been administered. As I sat there, she noticed that I saw her wrists and quickly covered her wrists so that the wounds were no longer visible. She just looked at me and said nothing. After a few moments, I attempted to break the silence, looking at my shoes as if the answer or thought I had was printed there or something. Before I could figure out the “right words,” she broke the silence and said, “Look. Before you think you know everything, let me tell you that you don’t. You don’t know what its like to bear the stress I am feeling and you have no right to judge me. I have this under control.” I could only open my mouth wide enough for my lips to part and I closed my eyes. Having no words, I continued to search for any form of encouragement or something. Having nothing to say to her, I finally looked at her and began to cry. I cried for this girl who felt as though she had no other choice but to release her pain by cutting herself in her bedroom. I cried for her because no one else seemed to have cried for her in a long while. The only words I could get out was, “I care.” She began to cry as well and I embraced her. I held this young girl of 18 in my arms and cried for her and allowed her to cry with her head in my shoulder. I wanted her to know that someone cared about her.
Cutting is a big deal among teens. I could quote a lot of stats regarding those who cut – that wouldn’t be helpful or encouraging at all. What would be helpful is to know why many teens cut themselves, which can oftentimes be sketchy with a lot of different reasons. I have not read many stories – about 40 or so – and a few issues I have read from those who have cut for many years include but are not limited to: Not feeling loved by family and friends, not being told that they are special, they were made fun of either in school or church, they had or have been sexually abused in some fashion, or they have lost someone of significance and have trouble figuring out how to deal with their loss. These aren’t all the reason – I only read about 40 stories or so – but these are a few of the main issues I read from those stories.
I think kids oftentimes get the short end of the stick. With the startling desire to be wanted and to want, the search to belong to someone or something dominates much of their young lives. Couple that with the search for a personal identity and we seem to have nailed the life of a teenager pretty well. The problem is that cutting can and does oftentimes start a lot earlier. Some girls I read started cutting when they were ten-years-old. As I said already, each person is different in his or her reasoning for cutting.
So what do we do? Well, individually we can do a lot. The only response I had was to cry because I honestly didn’t know what else to do. And sometimes that is enough. If you know someone is cutting, talk to them and cry with them. Show them that you care. Show them that they are not an embarrassment to you. Give them a hug and let them hug you back. Be genuine in your motives and give allow them to express their hurt in words rather than with a razor on their arms or even their legs as to not allow people to see their scars. Finally, we have a responsibility to help that person get help – real help that, unless we are “trained professionals,” we can’t help in that way. We need to be a friend and love them unconditionally. The worst thing anyone could do is bringing about more shame in his or her words or actions. Yelling at them or saying something like “I can’t believe you would do that to yourself” is not helpful – even if that is how you really feel. This is not about you – it is about that person and the focus needs to be that way.
From a community aspect, one of the biggest things we could do is surround that person – guy or girl (cause believe it or not, guys cut too) with support that is not a condition of obligation but of responsibility and choice. We could also do well not to gossip about the person or tear them down in our religious circles while that person is not there. Getting the information right – not always the whole story but enough to be educated and concerned – should be shared with gentle information and safety. What I mean is: If you or I share with a group of people about “Kate” (who is not the name of the girl I know that cut herself or anyone I know of or have read that does likewise but is only a name used to make a point). As little as possible concerning information should be shared. The less the better as it were. Privacy is important and is needed to build trust and esteem. Having 500 people know your “personal business” can be intimidating and embarrassing even. Only those who “need to know” should know. Anyone else can pray for that individual “as they are going through a difficult time and could use prayer.”
Which brings me back to my friend who sat in my arms, crying on my shoulder. She finally released and asked if I would go with her to the nurse to contact her parents. I said that I would. I sat there – with her permission – and listened to her talk about a thread of events that have built up in her life that brought her to a point where she could no longer take the pain. So, while she was shaving her legs, she took her razor and slit her wrist. The first few times, she would drop the razor and the blood would drip into the bathtub as the water washed it down the drain. After she was done, she would wipe up the tub with a red towel so no one would notice what she had done and would grab a band-aid and go to school. At first it really hurt to do it but said she would rather have felt that pain than the pain she was dealing with, with regards to all she was going through, which was a lot. She wanted help and the nurse then began to talk about how she could do so. The nurse never talked down to her or made her feel stupid. Instead, the nurse smiled and hugged her and said she would be all right. Relieved, I said that it was time that I probably go but that I would be around for my friend if she needed someone to talk to or just needed someone to give her a hug because I cared about her. She was so thankful and hugged me before I left and closed the door. After I shut the door, I closed my eyes and prayed for her and thanked God that she would no longer be alone in this. She had people that cared about her and was willing to be there for her, as she needed it. I felt as though God was smiling because He was going to do a great thing in her life – one being restoration in this girl’s life.
There’s this passage in Joel that says that, “The Lord will restore the years the locust have stolen.” I think that is what God was planning on doing for my friend. He was going to restore the many years she felt this pain and needed to cut in order to deal with it all. The last I heard from her – which was not terribly long ago, she told me that things are going much better now. She has a boyfriend who loves the Lord and she is continually learning to love herself. Every time we talk, she always tells me how thankful she is that I cried with her. I am glad too.